Perpetual Change — Ashley Phoenix’s Alien Beauty

| Feb 13, 2012
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Bands and musicians are continually evolving. It’s probably a no-brainer to say that you have to in order to keep the creativity flowing. Nonetheless, it’s often the never ending search for the right combination that “clicks”which can cause the most stress. Some rise above it, some don’t.

Ashley Phoenix of the band Alien Beauty is one of the fortunate ones who has managed to keep making music in spite of a few set-backs. Along with her brother Dave Wise, she put the original Alien Beauty together in 2010. They released an early demo called Eulogy and followed that up a tune called Rock Star, which is still out there on YouTube in a live version.

Originally from San Francisco, Ashley now lives in the Philadelphia area. Perpetual Change is pleased to introduce Ashley Phoenix to TGForum readers in her first interview for the site.

TGForum: Right after I contacted you about the interview, you told me that the “band” is down to just you. Care to give some background?

Ashley Phoenix: Dave and I conceived Alien Beauty when we drove across the country together in July, 2010. We put together our first demos that September, under significant pressure. I was attending beauty school and working on the weekends. Dave was working as a mail room clerk underneath Motorola. He lined up an interview for an audio engineer position at a megachurch in California and for awhile it looked like a sure thing for him. We had been focused on work and school prior to that, but once he lined up the interview, we felt intense pressure to work together because if we didn’t get anything done, we might have lost the chance forever. We hammered out our first track in two days.

The song Rock Star came next. It started as a dance track I had made the previous year. We liked the sound of it, so we put it on loop and started randomly singing and dancing around the room. We recorded the verse and chorus that we had and Dave did some additional engineering before I drove him to the airport.

Dave took both tracks with him to California. He did not get the job, as the church turned out to be pretty crazy and he did not get along with them particularly well. The reception to our demos was enthusiastic, though, and I kept working on music while he was gone. When he returned, Alien Beauty was in full production mode.

TGF: What are your musical influences? I know you’ve been a serious music student as well, and how much of an influence did that have on the band?

AP: I am heavily influenced by Depeche Mode, Goldfrapp, Scissor Sisters, David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, and Jeff Buckley, among others. Depeche Mode is the one everyone pegs from the get-go. I grew up listening to them. When I was a child, my older sister showed me Depeche Mode and Duran Duran videos on MTV when that was forbidden in our household. I also loved Styx. Our family was rather conservative back then. Dad was a pastor. They all voted for Reagan, listened to Rush Limbaugh, and thought liberals were scum. So seeing these videos on MTV felt like being initiated into a secret society, one where everyone played synthesizers, wore makeup, and had brilliant hair.

Scissor Sisters are a recent love. I wasn’t into them until last summer. Dave played them for me on our cross country trip. They became my favorite band almost overnight. I saw them live at the Electric Factory the week Dave was in California. It changed my life. I wore red, and had a neon shock of hair thanks to Paul Mitchell Inkworks.

As for music theory, it wasn’t until college that I entered the academic music world. I was a composition major for some two years. I got about halfway to a BA in Music before I came out to my parents and shattered that world. The knowledge of theory that I gained from my time in school informs everything I do with Alien Beauty. It’s often a struggle to simplify things, because my instinct is usually the opposite. I always want to layer things deeper and make them more complicated, but that’s rarely the best thing for the music. To me it’s important that the work takes priority over my ego. Usually the bits I remove are kind of show-off pieces anyhow. It’s more important that I write a good song than that I impress people with clever chord changes or vocal acrobatics. Those are very hard to replicate live anyhow.

TGF: You have some song demo downloads out there, and I know you are continuing to work on getting enough material for a full CD. How is that project coming along?

AP: Yes, I’m accumulating material. I have enough that I could assemble something right now, but it wouldn’t be the quality that I want. I’m still writing and refining until I get things to where I want. I’d like to have something ready soon.

TGF: I like the band name Alien Beauty. Any kind of special meaning there?

AP: Alien Beauty is one of many names I came up with when I was brainstorming for titles. I like the idea that aliens would have different beauty standards from humans. I feel like an alien myself on occasion.

One of the things about being a transwoman is that your sense of self-worth has to come from within. But I think that goes for anyone. There are people out there who will reject us based on principle alone. They are against the very idea of transpeople, or people with different colored skin, or open minded people, or gay people, or people with a certain accent, or whatever you can imagine. And if we let ourselves be defined by their standards, we will always be unhappy; We’ll never win a stacked game like that.

So we need to judge ourselves by our own standards, even if polite society considers them alien. True beauty springs from exuberance anyhow. I have met people I thought were physically beautiful until the moment they opened their mouths and started moving around. And I’ve met others who did not strike me until I saw them talk and move and then I thought, my God, how gorgeous are they? Joie de vivre is the most beautiful thing in the world, and that comes from self-acceptance.

I think it’s important to embrace the things that make you unique. We are all gorgeous creatures in our own right. We obsess over the things that make us different, but I think the things that make us different are the things that make us beautiful. You can find skinny, bleached blondes with great cheekbones everywhere in L.A., but no matter how hard you look, you’ll only find one Bowie, one Garland, one Grace Jones, one Annie Lennox, one Ella Fitzgerald, one Streisand, one Mick Jagger, one Little Richard. It was uniqueness that made these people icons, not sameness.

So I guess that’s what Alien Beauty means.

TGF: How old were you when you started dealing with your gender issues? I’m also a bit curious about the fact that your father was a pastor at one time. How has everything worked out with your family?

AP: I nearly got started at 13, but a friend advised me not to transition. “You’d be ugly”, is what he said. That put me off for a decade. At 22, I began dosing myself with saw palmetto, wild yam, things like that. A year later I was house sitting for a friend in San Diego when I drove to Tijuana and bought a backpack full of hormones. I don’t recommend that approach to anyone. But it was what I had to do.

After that summer ended, I went to school at Chapman University in Orange, California for the fall semester and continued to transition on the sly. When I drove home to the Bay area for Christmas, everyone talked about how different I looked. They knew something was up, but I kept a lid on it well into February. At that point, I had something of an emotional breakdown after I bombed an audition for the Chapman choir. I felt I had to return home to come out to my parents. So I did.

It did not go well. After a month of begging and pleading, they laid down an ultimatum: in order to remain welcome at home, I would have to enter “reparative therapy”. I refused, and shortly afterward ended up couch surfing in San Francisco and being treated by the wonderful physicians at the Tom Waddell transgender clinic. I became a call girl and lived in the city for nearly two years.

My parents began to accept me years later after I’d moved to the East Coast and worked for an insurance company. Nowadays they have come full circle. They cosigned on my student loans for beauty school. They even voted against Prop. 8, except for my father, and he got no end of grief from my brothers and sisters about it. We talk all the time. My father sends me guitars parts and talks me through installing them on my Frankenfender. I love them dearly.

And for what it’s worth, working for an insurance company was far worse than being a call girl.

TGF: Musically, where do you go from here?


Ashley relaxing at Angela's Laptop Lounge in January.

AP:I do have gigs in the works, and I still play open mikes, especially when I’m working on new material. There’s a music video for Rock Star in the works as well. I have some friends who are handy with video gear and willing to work with no budget. Should be fun.

TGF: How political are you? Pay much attention to GLBT politics?

AP: Aside from a brief manic episode in the midst of the 2008 election, I am not terribly political. I feel like the best way to create positive social change with regard to transpeople is to be out, visible, and magnificent. It’s easy to hate a concept, but it’s hard to hate a person you’ve shared a drink with. I realize that I’m the only transperson a lot of my friends and acquaintances will ever meet, so I feel it’s important to be a good ambassador. I believe in the power of being nice. I think being nice can change the world. So I think we owe it to ourselves and to future transpeople to be out, to be nice, and to be magnificent.

TGF: Any advice for other musicians, trans or not, who are just starting out?

AP: That’s hard to answer because I feel like I’m still just starting out myself. But my advice to musicians is to find a great teacher, who is open minded, to play live every chance you get (to develop your stage presence), and to be willing to refine your performance. Too often, people will think every note they play is gold. Singers are worst with this. You have to work hard and do things over and over and over ‘till you get them right.

TGF: Anything you’d like to say in closing?

AP: We are legendary creatures, lovies. Don’t hate yourself for being a unicorn, just spread the glitter around.


For more information on Ashley Phoenix and Alien Beauty, check out Also on Facebook, MySpace, Soundcloud, YouTube, and a brief mention on the site.


Miss Coco Peru, usually featured in our Transvocalizers companion column, will be bringing her current show, There Comes A Time, to the Renberg Theatre in Hollywood for one week only. Show times are Friday, March 2nd , 8 p.m.; Saturday, March 3rd, 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 4th at 7 p.m.. Tickets are $25. For information, contact The Renberg Theatre, 1125 North McCadden Place, Los Angeles, CA 90038 323-860-7300, or purchase online.

East Coast musician Georgie Jessup sent an email recently saying that she’s hard at work on her next album project, which is scheduled for a November release. Ms. Jessup also made mention of a YouTube video for the tune Who’s Gonna Be My Valentine? which accompanies a photo spread by photographer Bonnie Schupp featuring photos of all kinds of couples. Most appropriate for the day, don’t ya think?

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Pam Degroff

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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